Here’s my mental model for how publicly exposed I consider myself when using different types of social media, along with comparable real-world social environments:
There are two ways to look at my scale. The first is: how private do you want to be? The second is: how popular do you want to be perceived to be?
I’ve taken a shine to Path lately. It’s an intimate social media environment. It’s like hanging out in your living room. Hence, I only let people into my Path account that I actually hang out with in my living room. If you don’t know what my real-world couch looks like, I probably won’t accept your Path invite.
Plus, Path can only be accessed and used on an iPhone or an Android device. The single most intimate device I’ve ever owned is my iPhone, so that restricted use model really plays to how personal the environment feels. If I ever had the opportunity to manage my Path profile in a desktop browser, I think I’d feel much different about it.
I post stuff to Tumblr that I’d share with a medium-sized group of acquaintances and newly-met strangers. The nice thing about Tumblr is the simple exposure control you have when using the platform: you can lock up a blog with simple password-protection. So one blog you operate on Tumblr might be completely public, but another might restrict access to just a few friends, or a specific group of business associates.
That said, I find Tumblr much less private than Path. I think that’s because a lot of the management and interaction must be conducted in a desktop browser, and just by the simple fact that Tumblr isn’t an inherently private platform, as Path is.
Here’s a key point: neither Path nor Tumblr interfere with your experience on their platforms with advertising. That goes a long way to making your activities there feel extremely personal and much more intimate than the other platforms.
Twitter feels like a larger social gathering, as you might experience in a medium or large club in a major city. You arrive with friends, but there’s plenty of exposure from more distance acquaintances and strangers alike. And as in bars in clubs, there’s a healthy dose of advertising, but it’s selective, tasteful, and generally contextual.
Twitter is extremely noisy, but you can conduct a conversation with selective people, much as you would in a bar.
The outer ring of my exposure model includes both Facebook and Google Plus, both of which I find comparable to social interaction in a very large arena or coliseum, like when you go to a sporting event in a major city.
The degree to which you expose anything on either of these platforms is extremely uncertain. While you can conduct some very personal dialogues using Google Plus’ circles mechanism, you must consciously manage the degree of privacy that you want. But even the most private environments on Google Plus feel like they’re just behind a closed, unlocked door that opens onto a public space.
Plus, the Google brand carries certain connotations, a key one of which is data harvesting. Whatever you do on Google Plus, you can be certain it’s being collected and analyzed. So even your private dialogues are being monitored. The same goes with Facebook.
Something that completely destroys any sense of intimacy on Facebook is the overbearing amount of generally context-less advertising. Even as you manage your privacy settings, you feel advertisers’ eyes examining your conduct. Anything you post to Facebook should be considered public, even that which you post with extreme privacy settings. Don’t do or say anything on this platform that you wouldn’t do or say on a concourse in a stadium.
Of course, social perception plays into the various platforms, as well. On Facebook and Google Plus, it’s very much a high-school social model: your perceived popularity is based on how many friends you have, who your friends are, and how often you interact with the social group.
It operates in reverse order from the outer ring to the inner ring. With Path, for example, the point is to be extremely selective with your friends. And that’s okay, because Path is designed to be intimate and private. You won’t be judged on your social circle here.
Because you can easily cross-post to other social media platforms (Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and Foursquare), Path feels like a core starting point. You can compose any message in Path, and then limit it just to Path if you feels it’s private. If you want to expose that information in more public environments, you can choose to additionally post on other platforms. In a sense, because Path has just one privacy level, it leverages other platforms to let you manage the exposure level of your posts.
Another way to think of my scale is in terms of introvert and extrovert.
Facebook and Google Plus are on the extreme end of the extrovert scale, while Path is firmly on the introvert end of things. That’s why I’m personally so much more comfortable using Path than Facebook. Someone who’s energized in larger, more active social environments will delight in Facebook and find Path too restrictive.
One final note. It’s not on my diagram, but at the extreme centre of the scale would be an app like Momento on the iPhone. By definition Momento is a diary app, but it’s unique in that it draws into itself everything you’ve posted into a wide variety of social media environments, including Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, and Foursquare. So you can post absolutely personal notes to yourself, just as with any diary, but you can also view the entirety of your social media conduct in one place. With that view, Momento offers a very, very unique perspective on one’s self.